King Arthur – a legendary knights’ tale
EMMA OUTTEN It is being hailed as the most historically accurate version of the myths of King Arthur, and stars seven hunks in leather’, according to co-star Keira Knightley. Emma Outten went to the King Arthur press conference and met three hunks.
For most people, mention of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table conjures up a romantic scene, with men dressed in shining plate armour and women in silk and satin – all set amid the splendour of the medieval castle of Camelot.
For most, this imagery is the stuff of legend, and few know that Arthur really existed, that he lived more than 500 years before the first romantic tales of his adventures were written down and that the reality is a far cry from the chivalrous tales of the Round Table.
New film King Arthur sets out to put the record straight, by taking us back to the 5th century, to the Dark Ages.
As producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) describes it, King Arthur is the definitive story of the leader and warrior who emerged to lead the Britons against the Saxons. “It is the story of the man who became King Arthur.”
There is evidence that Arthur was a Romano-British soldier – the child of a mixed marriage between a Roman and a Briton, and in the movie he is based on Lucius Artorius Castus, a historical figure whose life and deeds are recorded on his tombstone found in Croatia.
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Writer David Franzoni, who also wrote Gladiator, added: “There's a moment in history we can actually pin down. There is a name and there is a battle. The name was Lucius Artorius Castus and the battle was the Battle of Badon Hill.
“This battle changed the face of Britain and created a legend which has survived for generations and has been reinvented many times.”
Director Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day, had grown up with the myths and movies of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He admitted to being nervous about taking on the story of King Arthur. “It's a big legend and it means a lot to a lot of people.”
But he said: “I wanted the film to be about King Arthur, not about a magical sword. I think these times need real heroes and he was somebody who I believe was a real hero.” In King Arthur, Clive Owen – tipped to play 007 if recent reports are anything to go by – is cast as the hero.
But in this version of the King Arthur story, there is no magic, no shining armour, and no Camelot. “I have always seen this film as ending where the myth begins,” says Owen.
There are, however, “seven hunks in leather”, according to Keira Knightley, who plays Guinevere in the film.
Unfortunately for her male admirers in the audience, Knightley did not attend the King Arthur press conference held at the Park Lane Hotel in London, although she did manage to get to the London premiere of the £90m Hollywood blockbuster later that day.
For the ladies in the house, however, there was Clive Owen, 'Sexy Beast' Ray Winstone, and handsome Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, 'Horatio Hornblower' himself.
It wasn't exactly a round table they sat at for the press conference and they were more like knights in shiny suits than in armour (with the exception of Gruffudd who looked like a naughty schoolboy in white shirt and tie) but three out of seven hunks wasn't bad.
There is a 'magnificent seven' quality about the knights in the film, and costume designer Penny Rose has made them, look a bit like “fifth century rock stars”.
Owen had just one request for his wardrobe. “I wanted Arthur to wear a pair of black leather trousers.” His wish was duly granted.
Gruffudd, who plays Lancelot in the film, admitted that he was ridiculed on the set of King Arthur by co-star Winstone – who plays Bors – when Winstone discovered his daily beauty routine.
Gruffudd took his grooming for the role very seriously, although he encountered his fair share of embarrassing situations.
“I made the very foolish error of deciding to be one of the vainest Lancelots of them all and I decided to curl my eyelashes every morning.
“I was rather unfortunate to be caught out by Ray Winstone one morning and, as you can imagine, the word got round very quickly and I soon became Sir Lashalot!”
Gruffud also confessed that he had trouble growing the beard required for the part of the dashing knight.
“I think it took me about three months to grow that little scraggly one that I had, and being Celtic, it turned out red so I had to get it painted in every day to get that black effect.”
Before they started shooting King Arthur, the actors spent time in England learning the skills of horse-riding, as well as the choreography of fighting and the art of using various weapons. This was later followed by a two-week boot camp in Ireland.
Owen had to start from square one. Although he had done a bit of riding on films, it had only been for a few days. “No-one actually said to me 'can you ride?' so I kept very quiet about it, and was in denial about it.”
But he added: “As soon as I got the part, I started lessons straight away – five days a week for seven weeks.
“Arthur is supposed to be a good horseman, so a big part of the acting challenge is how you feel and look and present yourself on horseback.
“Seventy per cent of the movie is on horseback and it was important that both I and the guys, the knights, looked like we belonged on those horses.”
Thankfully, Owen became very comfortable wielding a sword in one hand and riding with the other.
It was then on to boot camp and the largest set ever built in Ireland. Joking about whether or not they had all partaken of a couple of Guinnesses while filming in Ireland, Gruffudd conceded that horse-riding had been “one of the best ways to clear the cobwebs from the night before…”
He had described going to boot camp as a “boys' own adventure”, where he had learnt the double-sword fighting technique for the character of Lancelot.
However, it sounded as though Knightley managed to keep up with the men at boot camp. For seven weeks she trained, learning archery, sword-fighting and boxing.
When asked about how she coped in such a male-dominated environment, director Fuqua said: “When she was around it wasn't dominated by males!”
Winstone never made it to boot camp because of other commitments. “I didn't have a chance to go to boot camp, thank God, because I'm 47 years of age.” As he said: “People used to die before the age of 47 in those days…”
In King Arthur, both the knights and their commander are descended from the original Sarmatian legionaries based in Britain.
The Sarmatians were a tribe of warriors from, roughly speaking, the area known today as the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
And in King Arthur, the Picts, or Woads, are at first the bitterest enemies of Artorius and his men, Later, they became allies against a common foe, the Saxons, and Artorius marries Guinevere, daughter of the Pictish leader and herself their future leader.
The Pictish tribe often went into battle naked, believing that this demonstrated their courage, as well as showing off their tattoos. Fortunately for Knightley, something of a warrior princess in King Arthur, the costume designers set out to protect her modesty!
Up until now, for the director, writer, producer and the actors, Excalibur had been the definitive movie about the Arthurian legend.
But, as Gruffudd said: “You can make an Excalibur, you can make our version of King Arthur, it's a story that's been embellished over the centuries and that's the beauty of it. It is a great story.” t
t King Arthur opens on Friday July 30. VisitBritain's new King Arthur Movie map details key UK locations with a claim to King Arthur – www.visitbritain.com